A recent case in the Magistrates Court of Victoria is a timely reminder to check that safety guards are fully operational and to promptly remove faulty machinery from production for repair.
A machine that individually wrapped small cakes and muffins in plastic film was fed the food product by two conveyors to the wrapper. Film encased the product and a mechanical hot seal sealed the product into the film case.
The site maintenance manager notified the operations manager in writing that the machine had some serious issues in that its screen and control system would freeze for no apparent reason. The machine was functional but all the buttons, emergency stops and interlocks became non-operational. This was a major safety issue as the operators could not stop the machine in an emergency. He advised that a technician was needed to attend the site and diagnose and resolve the issue urgently.
Verbal instructions were provided by the manufacturer of the machine on how to fix the fault. This reduced the frequency of the frozen screen but the issues were ongoing.
The conveyor belt stopped moving at the wrapping and packing end of the machine and cakes banked up along the production line leading to the wrapping section. An employee depressed a stop button but the machine continued to operate. It stopped on a second press of the button.
Later that day, the employee was directed by the machine operator to “take the film out”. The machine had totally stopped at this time. The employee lifted the lid over the wrapping section using her right hand and put her left hand under the cover to grab the bits of film that were stuck. As she did this, a blade came down and cut through the tips of two of her fingers.
The employee was not aware that the interlock switch on the blade guard was not operating. She was not told or warned about any safety faults on the machine.
The incident was not reported to WorkSafe, as required under the incident notification provisions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic) (OHS Act).
The offender pleaded guilty to breaches in relation to its failure as an employer to provide and maintain safe plant with adequate guarding and not notifying a notifiable incident under the OHS Act, and was convicted and fined $30,000.00.
Key learnings and reminders
- If a machine is faulty and stops operating intermittently, it should be assessed for repairs asap by a qualified technician.
- The faulty machine should be immediately removed from production and repaired before further use.
- It is not sufficient to simply warn employees of the risk that the safety switch may not work on a faulty machine. It would be reasonably practicable in these circumstances to prevent any further use of the machine until repaired given the nature of the potential serious risk and harm.
As we reach the end of the year, with some food and beverage manufacturers taking a short production break, it is a good opportunity to arrange inspection and maintenance of plant and safety components including emergency stops, interlocks, guarding etc before commencing the new year’s production.